New Monument Celebrates Healthcare History
by Heather Vita
Built in the 1930s on an ancient escarpment overlooking Lake Superior, the Port Arthur General Hospital served residents until its closure in 2004, when the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre opened. When it was demolished in 2010, a former Registered Nurse from the Hospital, Shirley King, asked construction workers to save three stone blocks that graced the lake view of the building.
From that point forward, Mrs. King has been actively fundraising with the campaign ‘Remembering The General’ to raise funds to have the stones erected into a monument at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre. Today the monument was unveiled and dedicated to those who worked tirelessly to preserve the health of this community and to those who continue in their footsteps. The monument includes a centre stone that bears the Rod of Asclepius; a serpent-entwined rod wielded by the Greek god Asclepius, a deity associated with healing and medicine.
Sherry King, on behalf of her mother Mrs. King said, “In so many ways our histories have been and continue to be erased, and when your history is erased, the framework of your culture is erased with it. The history of the Port Arthur General Hospital is just as small part of the history of this community, but it is an important one. In its relatively short 74 years of operation, it bore witness to significant events in the history of Thunder Bay. The Hospital received injured men from the grain dust explosion in 1945 at the Saskatchewan Pool 5 Elevator and also cared for Terry Fox when he was forced to end his Marathon of Hope just east of Thunder Bay. There was also tremendous excitement when, in 1952, Senator Norman Paterson gifted a Cobalt 60 Beam Therapy Unit to provide radiation therapy, and the hospital was able to provide state-of-the art cancer treatment to the community. That tradition continues here at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre at the Cancer Centre.”
Mrs. King and her daughter Sherry expressed their gratitude as the monument was dedicated and blessed. “We reflect on the people of the past whose service, dedication, volunteer work, and financial support brought us to where we are today, and we continue to be grateful for the hard work, dedication, talent and generosity so abundant in this community and in this hospital.
“As one of this Hospital’s predecessors, the Port Arthur General Hospital played a significant role in providing care for our community over many decades,” said Jean Bartkowiak, President & CEO, Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre and CEO of the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute. “By preserving a small piece of that former building, we’ll be able to honour the past and remember the dedicated care that the nurses at that hospital provided for patients and families.”
Councillor Brian McKinnon, also a Director with the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Foundation added, “The General wasn’t just a Hospital – it truly was an extension of our lives and an important piece of Thunder Bay’s history. I’m very thankful that this project was undertaken to honour our healthcare providers, while keeping our city’s heritage alive.”
The monument, along with a descriptive plaque, can be viewed anytime at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, in the courtyard outside the cafeteria. Visitors are encouraged to take a moment to pause and recall this important building and the care that took place within it.